Welcome to the February 2009 issue of Alignment Solutions!
As introduced last month, our new article series called Research News You Can Use selects findings of academic research that are applicable in the workplace, and suggests how you might implement them in your organization.
February Topic: When Words are More Effective than Actions
Premise: A key success factor in effecting transformational change in organizations that use Appreciative Inquiry is a focus on language rather than on action. Find out how words can have a dramatic, positive impact in the workplace.
This month's theme is "the ROI (return on investment) of appreciative language." In my experience, few people are aware of how powerful and life-changing our words can be. Because people's behaviors are a consequence of their thoughts, words, and beliefs, we literally can guide others' behaviors in a positive direction or in a negative one. No doubt you have experienced brilliant ideas that have been praised and accepted, and others that have been shot down. What was each situation like for you? The point is, there is a striking difference in performance when people consciously use affirmative language and positive questions. And words do not cost anything!
The Feature Article, "The Transformative Power of Appreciative Language," explains how the words we use and the questions we ask are critical to our ability to change organizational culture, or to create a more productive and energized work environment -regardless of the state of the economy. Find out how framing situations in positive ways causes remarkable shifts in performance and behavior.
In "Transformative Questions for the Workplace," the Business Solutions section lists twenty questions whose answers can have a powerful impact on your organization by focusing attention on the positive, energy-producing aspects of the workplace.
In the Personal Solutions section, "Transformative Self-talk" describes how language directs behaviors. It lists a dozen affirmative questions designed to enhance or dramatically improve the way you view yourself.
I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!
The Transformative Power of Appreciative Language
During times of uncertainty, people expect their leaders more than ever to set the tone and direction for their organizations. The fact that people throughout the world are pinning their hopes for positive outcomes on President Obama is but one example of how desperately people want to hear good news and experience good times. How can you as a leader step up to this challenge? It's as simple as choosing the words you use.
One way to set an affirmative tone, regardless of circumstances, is to make a conscious decision to use language that causes people to seek the positive rather than the negative. For example, many organizations are facing severe budget constraints. Consider the difference in the likely behaviors engendered by these alternative approaches:
"We can't do this project because we don't have any money."
"Given existing resources, what can we do?"
A positive approach is especially effective in helping organizations move forward productively despite a disastrous scenario. Asking negative questions (e.g., "Whose idea was it to do it this way?") directs people's attention to a past that cannot be changed, it causes defensiveness because we are seeking to blame someone, and it does nothing to move the organization forward. On the other hand, asking positive questions (e.g., "What did we do well in this situation?") causes people to focus on what worked and to identify ways of incorporating those things into future situations to produce different outcomes. Instead of exhibiting defensive behavior, people will be empowered to concentrate and build on strengths that will enable the organization to be successful.
Language, especially the questions we ask, is critical to organizational success because we tend to find the things we seek. In fact, questions have been characterized as "fateful" because they send us in either positive or negative directions to search for answers. Consider two different ways of viewing a performance management process:
"How can we use performance management to correct employee behavior?"
"How can we use performance management to help employees become fully successful?"
In the first example, managers actively search for things employees do wrong. In the second example, they seek ways to support the success of their employees. In which environment would you prefer to work?
The words we say and the questions we ask create mental pictures that guide our behaviors. Consequently, language is a critical determinant of workplace performance. Thus if you want to optimize your organization's results, I suggest you consider the implications of your answer to this question: What kind of language are you using?
For examples of affirmative questions that can help transform your workplace, see the Business Solutions section of this newsletter.